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CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)

It’s time for the CCTV 2018 New Year’s Gala – follow the highlights and the low points here.

Manya Koetse

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It is time for the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, one of the most-watched, most-discussed, and most mocked lived television events in the world, taking place on the Lunar New Year’s Eve. What’s on Weibo discusses the ins & outs of the 2018 edition and the social media frenzy surrounding it in this live blog.

Check out our CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog here.

The biggest live televised event in the world, the CCTV New Year’s Gala, also known as the Spring Festival Gala or Chunwan (春晚), is a true social media spectacle. On February 15th 2018, the 36th edition of the 4-hour-long live production is taking place.

The show, that is organized and produced by the state-run CCTV since 1983, is not just a way for millions of viewers to celebrate the Lunar New Year (除夕); it is also an important opportunity for the Communist Party to communicate official ideology to the people and to showcase the nation’s top performers.

Watch the live stream here on What’s on Weibo (if you have no access to YouTube, please check the CCTV live stream here).

What’s on Weibo provides you with the ins & outs of the 2018 Gala and its social media frenzy, with updates before, during and after the show. Follow our liveblog below (we recommend you keep your browser open – you’ll hear a ‘beep’ when updated). (Note: this live blog is now closed, thank you!).

 
15/02 10:17 About the Gala (3,5 hours to go!)

Just 3,5 hours to go before the start of the show, so we have the time to tell you a bit more on the Gala if you’re not so familiar with it. Since its very first airing in 1983, the Spring Festival Gala has captured an audience of millions. In 2010, the live Gala had a viewership of 730 million; in 2014, it had reached a viewership of 900 million, making the show much bigger in terms of viewership than, for example, the Super Bowl.

As viewer ratings of the show in the 21st century have skyrocketed, so has the critique on the show – which seems to be growing year-on-year. In 2016, the criticism was so overwhelming that CCTV’s official Weibo account even temporarily shut the comment section on the show. The show lasts a total of 4 hours, and has around 30 different acts, from dance to singing and acrobatics. The acts that are both most-loved and most-dreaded are the comic sketches (小品) and crosstalk (相声); they are usually the funniest, but also convey the most political messages. (The controversial 2017 CCTV Spring Gala sketch ‘Long Last Love’ where a woman wants to divorce her husband for not being able to conceive.) For the general viewers and social media users, mocking the show has become so commonplace that the sentence “There’ll never be a worst, just worse than last year” (“央视春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂”) has become a well-known idiom connected to the Gala.

 
15/02 12:29 What can we expect of the CCTV Gala this year?

It’s almost show time! Tonight’s show will feature a total of 42 acts over a time span of 4 hours. Like last year, the show will be broadcasted from various places besides its main venue in Beijing’s CCTV’s No.1 Studio. Central to the theme of this year’s Gala is China’s rising power, reflecting on both the Silk Road and the 40 Year Anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s Reform Policy. What is noteworthy about tonight’s programme is its many Taiwanese performers – a majority of tonight’s big name singers are Taiwanese. Also noteworthy is that although “innovation “ is key to the Gala’s theme tonight, it has many of the same presenters as previous years. Also, one of the acts that drew a lot of attention last year, namely Jackie Chan performing a song named “Nation”, seems to be repeated in a way: Jackie Chan will perform a song titled “China” tonight.. The song drew critique last year for being too political. According to many viewers, the spectacle generally is often “way too political” with its display of communist nostalgia, including the performance of different revolutionary songs such as “Without the Communist Party, There is No New China” (没有共产党就没有新中国). Although there are no titles of tonight’s acts that explicitly mention the Party, we can probably expect the same complaints on Chinese social media.

 
15/02 12:28 Can You Spot ‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ Tonight?

The CCTV Gala is an annual source of memes on Chinese social media. One person who went viral last year is “‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ (#春晚笑脸哥#)”. Directly after the ending of the CCTV Gala in 2017, many Weibo netizens discussed one person in the audience – observant viewers have spotted the very same man in the audience of the CCTV Gala every year since 1999. The man was nicknamed ‘CCTV Gala Brother Smile’ (#春晚笑脸哥#) because he always smiles.

Many netizens are extremely curious about the man, wondering how he came to sit from the back of the audience to the front crowd throughout the years. Some also compliment him for not having changed much over the past 18 years. If you spot him tonight, let us know!

 
15/02 12:57 Tonight’s CCTV Gala Venues

Like last year, the show will be broadcasted from various places besides its main venue in Beijing’s CCTV’s No.1 Studio, namely from Qiandongnan, an autonomous prefecture in the southeast of Guizhou province, Zhuhai (Guangdong), Qufu (Shandong), Tai’an (Shandong), and Sanya (Hainan).

It is a tradition for the Gala to have subvenues where it broadcasts from. In 2016, the Gala was aired from Quanzhou, Xi’an, Guangzhou and Hulun Buir. In 2017, it was broadcasted from Harbin, Guilin, Shanghai and Liangshan. Every city has its own hosts, who often welcome the audiences in their own local dialect or language, with performances that are related to the region. In 2016, the spectacular performance of singer Sun Nan (孙楠) who danced with 540 moving robots, for example, reinforced the image of Guangdong as the home of China’s tech startups.

 
15/02 13:07 Here We Go! “China’s Colorful Years”

The show has begun! In this opening act, that presents the years of PRC history as “thousands of purples and reds” (“万紫千红中国年”), there are various artists from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. From Hong Kong, there is the award-winning singer and actress Joey Jung (容祖儿). From Taiwan, there’s the former F4 pop group member Vic Chou. Other artists in this opening act are Phoenix Legend (凤凰传奇), a Chinese popular music duo of female vocalist Yangwei Linghua and male rapper Zeng Yi, actress and TV anchor Hu Ke with husband actor Sha Yi, and others.

 
15/02 13:15 The Presenters

The presenters now welcome everyone to the Gala. This year’s presenters of the Gala are Kang Hui (康辉), Zhu Xun (朱迅), Ren Luyu (任鲁豫), Li Sisi (李思思), and Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买). Three of them, namely Kang, Zhu, and Raxman, were also presenters in the 2017 New Year’s Gala. All of the hosts are familiar CCTV faces.

The ladies:

Zhu Xun (1973) is a well-known presenter and actress from Suzhou, who is presenting the Gala for a 5th time now. Li Sisi (1986) is the youngest presenter tonight; she is a Chinese television host and media personality most known for her role as host of the Gala since 2012.

The gentlemen:

Kang Hui (1972) is a Hebei-born influential CCTV news anchor. Ren Luyu (1978) is a Chinese television host from Henan, and he has previously presented the Gala in 2010 and 2016. Nëghmet (1983) is a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who also is not a newcomer; he hosted the Gala since 2015.

In the subvenues, there will be different hosts, but most of them are also familiar faces (so far goes the “new” theme of tonight…):

Guizhou: Ma Yue (CCTV) and Dou Aili (Guizhou radio and television host).

Guangdong: Yang Fan (CCTV) and Gui Jiachen (Zhuhai TV).

Shandong (Qufu & Tai’an): Li Jiaming (CCTV), Li Yi (Shandong radio and television).

Hainan: Zhang Zequn (CCTV), Wang Si (Hainan radio and television host.

 
15/02 13:14 Director & Theme: Chinese Values, Chinese Power

While we are watching the spectacles across the different venues, a little bit about the director and theme of tonight’s show. After themes such as the “Chinese Dream” and “Family Affinity”, this year’s theme revolves around “Chinese values, Chinese power.” One of the most important dimensions of this year is that it commemorates the 40-year-anniversary of China’s Economic Reform Policies (改革开放) initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1978.

This year’s director is Yang Dongsheng (杨东升) from Guangdong (see picture below), who is directing the Gala for the second year in a row. According to Sina News, the word “NEW” is central to this year’s Gala. As we’ve seen in last years, with spectacular Avatar-like settings for dance and singing acts in 2017, and the 540-dancing-robots-act in 2016, the display of ‘innovation’ in entertainment has become an important new characteristic for the Gala.

 
15/02 13:19 “Happy Holiday” Dance (All Venues)

In this first act across all venues there are people from several countries, including China, Russia, and the UK. China’s One Belt, One Road initiative also plays an important role tonight, so a more international programme can be expected. One of the main dancers here is Aoyue Zhang (张傲月), the winner of “So You Think You Can Dance China” and the “Most Popular Chinese Dancer.”

 
15/02 14:17 Sketch: “Real or Fake Teacher”

This is the first comical sketch tonight, and we can expect many more to come. Last year, many people could not appreciate the message constructed in the Gala’s sketches that emphasized the woman’s role as mother and wife, such as the narrative where a woman depended on her husband’s money or the one where a wife wanted to let her husband divorce her because she could not conceive children (which was in a sketch titled ‘Long Last Love’ 真情永驻). Many felt the sketches propagated women to have children, some said they depicted women as “breeding machines.”

This sketch features a house cleaner who is hired by a young man to pretend to be his mother for a teacher’s family visit, since his own parents work and live abroad. But then it turns out his father is not abroad at all- he pays his son a surprise visit. The boy is not doing well at school in terms of his behavior. A moral of the story is the student are not always to blame; the parents are also responsible.

 
15/02 13:39 “Chunwan Roast” Hashtag Censored on Weibo

The CCTV Gala has not even reached its first hour, and already the hashtag “Spring Festival Gala Roast” (春晚吐槽) has been censored on Weibo.

Mocking the CCTV Gala has become a tradition over the years. As aforementioned in this liveblog, “There’ll never be a worst, just worse than last year,” is an idiom that always comes up in relation to the Gala.

On Weibo, netizens are not happy that the hashtag used to mock the Gala has been censored.

 
15/02 13:47 Song “Praise The New Era”

The title of this song is representative of tonight’s theme – CCTV is pushing the “new era” (新时代) as a concept on social media too – they even have a separate section for the hashtag on Weibo.

One of the singers here is the popular Chinese singer and actor Li Yifeng (1987), who broke into entertainment after competing in the “2007 My Hero” talent search. He is accompanied by actress Jing Tian (1988) and Maggie Jiang (Jiang Shuying, 1986).

 
20/02 13:03 Sketch “Driving Class”

Another sketch, of which there will be many tonight. This one features famous actors Cai Ming, Jia Bing and Pan Changjiang.

The sketch is about an older couple, whose love and relationship is inspiring a younger driving instructor. The older lady’s husband only has another three months before he turns 70, and they want to learn how to drive a car in order to make a big magical road trip together. It encourages the driving instructor to convey his feelings to his true love.

 
15/02 14:03 Move over to Guizhou!

Guizhou’s Qiandongnan is the first subvenue to be featured tonight. This first song, the “Joyous Song” was performed by the Liping County Singing Group, which belongs to the ethnic minority of Dong. The Kam a.k.a. Dong (侗) are a Kam–Sui people of southern China, and they are one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China. They are famous for their carpentry skills, unique architecture, and sweet rice.

Amidst the spectacular scenes we see Taiwan singer Lin Zhixuan (林志炫), better known as Terry Lin (1966), who performs a song titled “The Drums of the Sun.”

The singer Ayouduo (阿幼朵) is a famous Hmong/Miao singer, she sings the song titled the “Sunset Duet.”

 
5/02 14:06 Jay Chou and Will Tsai

One of the most-anticipated acts tonight. The song “Love Confession Balloon” is a song by Jay Chou, who is on stage here. Jay Chou is a Taiwanese singer who is also called “Asia’s King of Pop.” He is joined here by Taiwanese-Canadian magician Will Tsai (蔡威泽), who participated in America’s Got Talent in 2017.

Will Tsai magically makes Jay Chou appear on stage.

 
15/02 14:10 PUBLIC SERVICE AD: PROSPEROUS HOME COUNTRY

During the CCTV Gala, there will be several two-minute public service ads that reflect on important societal issues and propagate government messages. This is the first one, in which dogs play a central role, since, obviously, the Year of the Dog is about the start in just a few hours.

 
15/02 14:26 The Children’s Song

Every year at the Gala, there will be a special performance focused on the kids. While it was dancing vegetables last year, this year sees dancing panda bears and dogs.

 
15/02 14:31 Comical Sketch: “Returning Home”

We’ve come to the 11th act of tonight, featuring Taiwanese actors Fang Fang, Zhang Chenguang, Du Zhulin, and also Wang Ji. This item is about coming home for New Year’s, in which we see a familly who bought towels from Taiwan to give to their Shandong family – but the towels are actually made in Shandong.

Last year, the Gala drew some criticism for featuring too many northern Chinese dialects. This year is significantly different, as the various acts have already presented various different dialects from across China. The actors in this sketch use a Taiwanese accent/dialect.

In general, this year’s show’s focus on Taiwan is really remarkable; not just in terms of singers coming from Taiwan but also the sketches using storylines that include Taiwan. It is especially noteworthy that this sketch’s title is “homecoming” or “returning home”, suggesting the ‘homecoming’ of Taiwan to the mainland.

The moral of this sketch is that people from Taiwan have never forgotten their “Chinese roots”, and that Taiwan and mainland China have an unbreakable connection.

 
15/02 15:01 The Reunion Between Faye Wong and Natasha Na

Another act tonight that was a much-anticipated one is this one featuring singer Wang Fei aka Faye Wong and Chinese vocalist Natasha Na (那英). The act is seen as a “reunion” between two of China’s greatest singers after 20 years. In 1998, a cooperation between the two on the very same stage was a great success across China.

 
15/02 14:53 Silk Road Painting Returns to Beijing

A special item in today’s program is the “homecoming” of a Chinese painting on the Silk Road – which clearly emphasizes the One Belt One Road theme. On stage are Chinese director Zhang Guoli and the Department Head of Palace Museum Shan Jixiang.

The painting is over 30 meters long and has been abroad for a long time. It is now “returning to the motherland” after it has been bought by the billionaire Xu Rongmao – he has donated it to the museum to “protect China’s heritage.” Those who are interested can watch the details of the painting the Palace Museum official website tomorrow.

The ensuing dance to this ceremony also focuses on the Silk Road.

 
15/02 15:12 Comical Sketch “Objections”

Depending on where you are live-streaming the Gala from (iQiyi, CCTV website, and YouTube channel all have some slight differences in airing the live event), we have now reached the 15th act of tonight, which is another comical sketch. This year, the Gala is featuring quite a lot of sketches; six in total.

Another genre is the ‘crosstalk’, which we’ll see later in this show. This particular act critiques doing business through “taolu” (套路), Chinese routines to do certain things according to ‘secret’ rules instead of taking the official road; it also suggests that leaders are spending too much time talking and socializing rather than actually doing things. The female protagonist in this act is actually giving the good example, who is all about cutting down on useless meetings, keeping in touch with the common people, and being open to more suggestions.

 
15/02 15:11 Over to Zhuhai, Guangdong Now!

After Guizhou, it is now time to shine for the subvenue in Shandong’s Qufu and Tai’an. While the song “Courage” is sung, we see some serious acts going on with motorcycles jumping through fire.

Really so many Taiwanese singers tonight! During this act we see Canadian-Taiwanese vocalist Pai Weijun (派伟俊) aka Patrick Brasca, who is a pop singer and songwriter known for singing the theme song “Try” of the film Kung Fu Panda 3.

 
15/02 15:22 “My Spring Festival, My Year”

It is remarkable how few traditional Communist-themed acts we’ve seen thus far. During the 17th act of the night, we see Wang Kai and Yang Yang with a sentimental song about the years passing by. It really suits the evening, which is also about looking back on the past 40 years since the Reform Policies and the “rise of China.”

Noteworthy: the children on stage are so-called “left-behind children” (留守儿童) from rural areas who are separated from parents who are working in remote urban areas. Earlier this year, the case of the “Yunnan Ice Boy” increased awareness of the difficult and poor conditions many of these children are in.

 
15/02 15:18 Here Comes the Crosstalk

This is the night’s first crosstalk (相声) scene. Different from the other sketches (小品), crosstalk usually involves two actors with one being the “joker” and the other being the “teaser”.

The actor in the middle, Feng Gong (冯巩), is one of China’s most renowned xiangsheng performers. He is best known for his performances in this CCTV New Year’s Gala, and has made more appearances on the show than any other major performer.

 
15/02 15:29 Song “Mountain Laughter”

There are many young vocalists tonight, but Lu Jihong and Zhang Ye are among the more traditional singers tonight.

 
15/02 15:40 CHINA by Jackie Chan!

Here he is again together with Wu Jin! Last year, Jackie Chan’s much-anticipated appearance on the show turned out to be somewhat cringeworthy. The Hong Kong singer and kung fu star showed his love for China through a song that was simply titled “Nation” (国家). In this act, the Hong Kong celebrity stood in front of an enormous Chinese flag together with students from the mainland, Taiwan, Hong Kong, as well as ethnic minorities.

Although the use of sign language by all the performers was praiseworthy, the song came after a night that had already seen many big flags, many dancing minorities, and the message of China’s national unity was already – not so subtly – propagated at every possible opportunity. Many netizens, however, did like the performance; some even claimed it was their “favorite act of the night.”

This time, Jackie again sings a somewhat cringeworthy song that is just titled “China” and which praises China and how much the singers love their motherland. The dancers in the back form the character ‘Zhong” for Zhongguo (China).

 
15/02 15:35 Is This Show Really Live?

Is this really live? Yes it is. But although the Gala is a live broadcast from CCTV’s No.1 Studio, and its other venues across China, every year’s show has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal. The tape of the official rehearsal runs together with the live broadcast, so that in the event of a problem or disruption, the producers can seamlessly switch to the taped version without TV audiences noticing anything.

 
15/02 15:45 Moving Over To Shandong

After the Gala’s traditional martial arts segment, we now move over to Shandong, where the song “Descendents of the Dragons” (龙的传人) is performed by Huang Xiaoming (黃曉明, 1977) and Hong singer Wallace Chung, Taiwan singer Jerry Yan, and Macao singer Xia Li’ao (夏利奥).

This is followed by the piano concert ‘Ode to the Yellow River’ played by the 35-year-old Chinese classical pianist Li Yundi and award-winning Chopin specialist Sa Chen (1979).

 
15/02 15:54 Piece of Africa?

Back to Beijing. Or well….dozens of African dancers join the stage with lions and zebras to do a Loin King type of act, but it seems somewhat misplaced? Wait, let’s see…

It is a ‘xiaopin’, one of the night’s short sketches, and it takes places in Africa, focusing on the new railway connections (emphasizing the One Belt, One Road intiative). On Twitter and Weibo, however, the sketch is receiving some critique.

 
15/02 16:15 Some more images of the Africa sketch

The title of the sketch is “Share the same Joy and Happiness《同喜同乐》and is actually meant to promote China-Africa relations. Not sure if it worked…Many reactions on social media deeming the sketch “racist.”

 
15/02 16:09 27th Act Tonight…

This is the night’s first Chinese opera segment featuring one of China’s leading Peking-Opera artists: Meng Guanglu.

 
15/02 16:13 Remembering 40th Anniversary of China’s Reform & Opening-up

In this song, titled “Rise Again”, China’s Reform and Opening-up policy of 1978 is commemorated. The singer Han Lei is accompanied on stage by a group of young dancers wearing a red scarf. The images in the back display images representing a developing China.

 
15/02 16:44 Running from one act to the next

Just a bit more than 30 minutes to go before the clock strikes twelve! Meanwhile, tonight’s 4-hour-show seems to proceed with unusual speed, moving from one item to the next within minutes or even seconds.

After a (very brief!) moment to honor some of China’s “model workers”, it is time for some acrobatics. The act “Above the Waves” features the athlete Hu Shi.

On Twitter, meanwhile, discussions on the Africa sketch continue…

 
15/02 16:27 “New Start of Happiness” Song

It is time for Sun Nan to hit the stage again. The Chinese mandopop singer stole the show in 2016 when he danced with 540 robotsduring the Gala. This time, no robots, just Tan Weiwei (谭维维) aka Sitar Tan, a famous Chinese singer and actress.

 
15/02 16:33 Time for the Last Subvenue: Sanya

Some spectacular and dreamy scenes from the city of Sanya, in Hainan. First on piano we hear the song “New Silk Road”, completely in sync with tonight’s themes, played while floating on water. This is followed by the song: “To Brave the Wind and the Billows” (乘风破浪).

 
15/02 16:37 Military Acrobatics?!

This scene featuring acrobatics and dance with Pan Yuexin (潘跃新) in the lead is quite noteworthy as it has a strong emphasis on China’s military expansion.

 
15/02 17:18 China’s “Promise with 2035”

This song, titled “I have a promise/meeting with 2035” is quite representative of tonight’s gala, which is focused on China’s past decades of development and its rise.

The song is brought by the TFBoys, who have been very successful in China over the past years. They also appeared at last year’s Gala, and won the Weibo Awards for being the most popular on Chinese social media, for which they received nearly 63 million votes. Their performance here tonight might make it more appealing for younger audiences to watch the New Year’s Gala, which generally has a somewhat stuffy image.

Chinese futurologists are planning for the PRC to surpass the US to become the most important country in the world by around 2035, when its socialist modernization is expected to be “completed.”

 
15/02 16:56 A Different Chord Indeed!

In the last minutes before the new year, the swinging song “Not a Common Chord” is performed by Taiwanese singer Jam Hsiao, and exquisite vocalists Tia Ray and Dimash Kudaibergen. Actually a really funky song and uncommonly cool and danceable for the CCTV Gala.

 
15/02 17:06 A New Year, A New Era

Happy New Year everyone! Just before and after the twelve o’clock moment, there is a clear focus on “China’s New Era”, a theme that is reiterated throughout the Gala tonight – emphasizing that time does not just mark a new year but also a new phase in the modernization of China.

 
15/02 17:16 East, West, China is Best

The third – and last – public service ad of tonight was titled “Fragrant Hometown” and focused on people living abroad or away from home and coming back to their hometowns and families, where everything is warm, loving, and fragrant. The service ad sends out a message that there is no place like (Chinese) home.

 
15/02 17:35 “Bright Shoes” Dance Act

A pretty cool and original dance act in the final minutes of tonight’s show, performed by the dancers of the Langzhong Spring Festival Culture and Folk Art Troupe, Xinghai Conservatory of Music, the Wuhan Art Troupe, and Sichuan University.

 
15/02 17:41 “I Love you China”

After the night’s last segment of sketch comedy and dance act, the 42nd performance of tonight, and the last song before the Gala’s traditional closing song, is by main singers Zhang Yingxi and Jin Tingting, accompanied by a group of international (opera) singers from, amongst others, Italy, USA, and Russia.

While the song is playing, we see images of people waving the Chinese flag and military staff.

 
15/02 17:44 It’s a Wrap: Unforgettable Night

The last song of this night is “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵). It is sung by the 73-year-old singer and dancer Li Guyi (李谷一) together with Huo Yong, Liu Yuxin, and Tang Fei.

Li Guyi sings the same song every year at the end of this show. The last song ends with all performers of the Beijing venue on stage. The hosts wish everyone a happy new year. It’s a wrap!

By Manya Koetse, with contributions via WeChat from Boyu Xiao, Diandian Guo, and Tim Peng

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

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©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    China Arts & Entertainment

    Oh, the Drama! Chinese Opera Performance Turns into Stage Fight as Drunken Man Attacks Actors

    This local traditional opera performance unexpectedly turned into a stage fight.

    Manya Koetse

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    On October 9 in Zhejiang’s Lishui city (Laozhu Town), a theatrical performance unexpectedly turned very dramatic when a drunken man stormed on stage to fight with the performers.

    A video showing the Chinese opera performance being disturbed by the drunkard, turning it into a chaotic stage scene, is gaining major attention on Chinese social media.

    The incident occurred Friday night around 9 pm, when the Laozhu Theatrical Troupe was performing.

    Videos of the incident that are circulating online show how one man comes on stage, attacking one of the actors. The scene escalates into a big fight when others try to intervene. The police were quick to arrive at the scene.

    Various news reports suggest the man started to act out after getting into an argument with one of the ‘Huadan’ (花旦) performers of the troupe. In traditional Chinese opera, the Huadan characters are young female roles, often seductive in appearance and quick with their words.

    Local police posted on Weibo that the chaos was caused by a 33-year-old local who started to become aggressive after he had too much to drink. The man is charged with disorderly conduct and is currently detained.

    The case received even more attention on social media when it turned out that the 33-year old troublemaker is the son of the head of a neighboring village.

    Many Chinese netizens feel that the man is spared by Chinese news media outlets, which only report about a “drunken man” who was “causing trouble.” They insist that the real story should be properly reported.

    “The son of the village chief took liberties with a huadan actress who rejected him, and then he kicked her, causing her to lose consciousness. He then beat up other actors,” some commenters explain.

    “He is not just a ‘drunkard’, he’s the son of the village secretary.”

    “What an explosive performance it was!” one Weibo blogger writes.

    By Manya Koetse

    Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

    ©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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    China Arts & Entertainment

    Rotten Girls: China’s Thriving Online Boys’ Love Culture

    It is an online subculture that has been around for more than a decade, and it is not likely to die out any time soon.

    Manya Koetse

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    They are mocked, hated, and misunderstood, yet China’s so-called ‘Rotten Girls’ are at the core of an online subculture that has been thriving for years.

     
    This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China (forthcoming), see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
     

    China’s ever-buzzing social media sphere sees trends, topics, and movements pop up every single day and then fade away quickly when their novelty is gone. But there are some trends that turn into something bigger, bringing forth communities and online subcultures that keep on thriving for years, with the participants building their own spaces in the online environment.

    One such space belongs to those who, with some self-mockery, define as “Rotten Girls” (fǔnǚ 腐女), derived from the Japanese fujoshi. In the Chinese context, ‘Rotten Girls’ are young women with a passion for fictional stories, drama series, and manga (comic books) featuring gay male erotica and romantic relationships called ‘yaoi.’

    ‘Rotten girls’ do not just consume these stories, primarily written by and for women, they also create and share them with others to discuss.

    In Chinese, the gay erotica known as yaoi is also called ‘danmei’ (耽美) or ‘BL’ (for ‘Boys’ Love’) – all umbrella terms for contents of male-male homoerotic fiction. The genre plays a major role in various corners of the Chinese internet. It is an online subculture that has been around for more than a decade, and it is not likely to die out any time soon.

    Media and technology both play a big part in the sharing of fǔnǚ fantasies. These fantasies can range from boys holding hands to more pornographic ones, but the main point of the imaginary is love and intimacy (Galbraith 2011, 213).

     

    Always Another BL Trend

     

    There is always something different trending in the world of Rotten Girls. This summer, for example, the release of the Japanese 18+ games ‘Lkyt’ by BL game brand Parade received a lot of attention. A previous game by Parade, ‘Room No. 9,’ is also still popular among BL fans in China. The game revolves around two young men, long-time friends, who get locked inside a room where they are subjected to a behavioral analysis experiment. The two have to make some taunting decisions, including possibly being forced into sexual activity with each other, in order to make it out alive.

    Another major topic that went trending within the Rotten Girls community some years ago, even attracting the attention of western news media, was the British crime drama Sherlock. Many Chinese viewers in the BL scenes were convinced that detective Sherlock Holmes (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and his sidekick Watson (Martin Freeman) were not just professional partners, but a romantic couple. This practice of imagining a relationship between two characters is also known as ‘CP,’ an abbreviation for “coupling” or “character pairing.”

    The ambiguous relationship between Holmes and Watson – and the very fact that they are not explicitly homosexual – suits the fantasies harbored by China’s fǔnǚ. There are countless examples of how BL fans photoshopped Sherlock images into homoerotic scenes, making up their own stories and endlessly discussing the relationship between Holmes and Watson.

    Fanart: Holmes and Watson share a passionate kiss

    BL fans are active in various online spaces. There are Rotten Girls communities on Chinese literature websites, discussion boards, and on ACG-focused platforms such as Bilibili (ACG is a popular abbreviation of “Anime, Comic and Games”). Boys’ Love is practically everywhere: short stories, web novels, manga, anime, games, and series are all actively created, consumed, and shared within the BL fandom.

    The Chinese Jinjiang Literature City site (1998) is one of the earliest and most influential websites for the danmei genre, where some top channels receive millions of clicks. The Chinese web novel author ‘Priest’ is among one of the most successful authors (some translations in English can be found here).

    But besides the special BL fiction forums, there are also many fǔnǚ accounts on the more mainstream social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo. Under Weibo hashtags such as “Fǔnǚ Daily” (#腐女日常#), “BL Webtoons” (#bl条漫#), “BL Manga” (#bl漫画#), “Original Danmei” (#原创耽美#), and many more, Rotten Girls discuss their favorite danmei works and the latest news on a daily basis.

    Although the Rotten Girls have been increasing their sphere of influence, it hasn’t been without controversy. Not only are they often looked down upon for their love for male homoeroticism, some LGBT people also criticize them for silencing the voices of actual gay men or erasing real-life gay experiences.

     

    From Japanese Toy Boys to Chinese Danmei

     

    Where did this all begin? China’s BL subculture finds it roots in Japan. The popularity of danmei came up with the growing influence of Japanese popular culture in China.

    In the early 1990s, Japanese manga and anime titles started flooding the Chinese market, often as unauthorized (pirated) copies. With this wave of Japanese entertainment products hitting the Chinese market, there were also those belonging to the genre of BL.

    In Japanese fiction and manga, the theme of male-male romance intended for a female audience emerged as early as the 1970s but did not really rise to popularity until the early 1990s, when Japanese mainstream media saw a ‘gay boom’ and representations of male homosexuality became in vogue.

    The year 1993 truly was a ‘gay year’ in the Japanese media and entertainment industry. In “Producing Gayness” (1997), Sho Ogawa describes how one Japanese magazine even offered readers a “Gay Toybox”: full color paper gay dolls to cut out, including matching clothes from jackets to sports uniforms and even leather bondage gear. Instructions that came with the paper dolls encouraged readers to play with them, “give them a lovely name” and “imagine a campus love affair” between them.

    It was also in this same year of 1993 that many Chinese young women first discovered the genre of Japanese Boys’ Love, mainly through the dissemination of pirate manga, novels, and magazines in Chinese bookstores.

    Throughout the years, the Chinese genre of danmei has become much more than just an imported entertainment genre from Japan, and it is also somewhat different from the subgenre of ‘slash fiction’ in the West.

    Danmei literally means “to indulge in beauty,” and it has developed its own characteristics, taking a predominantly literary form while also strongly resonating with Japanese visual culture (Madill et al 2018, 5). Since the first Chinese BL-focused monthly magazine appeared in 1999, the genre has mixed with various local and other foreign media and celebrity cultures (e.g. that of South Korean and Thailand), and has become a truly Chinese fan culture phenomenon (Chen 2017, 7; Yang & Xu 2017, 3).

     

    Safe, Subversive, and Pure Love

     

    Those outside the danmei subculture often wonder what makes ‘Boys’ Love’ so appealing to so many young women. There are various explanations and interpretations of why female fans enjoy writing and reading about male homoeroticism.

    Chen Xin, who studied the topic of Boys’ Love at the University of British Columbia, offers “safety” as one explanation for the popularity of danmei, as it gives its readers, mostly straight women, the freedom to fantasize in a way that is removed from their own romantic lives. This is also reiterated by other scholars, who argue that BL provides a safe fantasy where female fans can avoid the objectification of women while exploring the boundaries of their own sexuality.

    The concept of ‘pure love’ is one of the funü’s greatest attraction to BL. According to them, it is the most romantic type of love because it transcends the boundaries of gender. The male protagonists in these stories do not identify as gay, but fall in love with other men nevertheless. “It doesn’t matter if you are male or female, I just love you” and “It’s not that I am gay, I just love a man” are classic sentences within Rotten Girls’ fiction (Dai 2013, 34).

    Zhang Chunyu (2016) also highlights the genre as an outlet for female writers and readers to explore sexuality and pleasure in a “subversive” way. Rotten girls position males as the objects of female desire, and in doing so, they challenge traditional gender stereotypes and appreciate gender fluidity.

    China’s Rotten Girls subculture is also ‘subversive’ in another way. Because of its focus on homosexuality and eroticism, danmei fandom is subject to online censorship. According to China’s cyberspace regulations, online content should adhere to the “correct political direction” and “strive to disseminate contemporary Chinese values.” Over the past few years, there have been various moments when displays of homosexuality were targeted by censors.

    An anti-pornography campaign of 2014 resulted in the shutdown of hundreds of websites and social media accounts. Throughout the years, dozens of danmei authors have been arrested and many sites were closed or deleted for creating and distributing homoerotic content (Chen 2017, 9; Madill et al 2018, 6; Zhang 2016, 250).

    Despite the strict internet control, fǔnǚ and BL content are still going strong. In order to circumvent censorship, the words and images used are often coded or nuanced enough not to get deleted – but BL fans will still understand and enjoy the subtext.

    Over the past years, China’s Rotten Girls have grown from a niche community to a force to reckon with on the Chinese internet. They have become a phenomenon that is often discussed in the media and is even researched by many academics.

    “We’ve become professionals now,” one ‘Rotten Girl’ joked on Weibo recently.

    Another commenter replied that the rise and possible fall of the danmei community is, eventually, intrinsically linked to how much room is given by China’s internet regulators. Although the past decade has demonstrated that Rotten Girls are not easily scared away by censorship and shutdowns, their future eventually does depend on the online accessibility to BL media and forums.

    “If there is no relaxed online environment, it doesn’t matter how professional we are,” one commenter writes: “We might come to a standstill.”

    What the future will hold for China’s Rotten Girls remains to be seen. Whether met with controversy or censorship, for now it seems impossible to put the Rotten Girls back into the closet they came from.

    By Manya Koetse
    Follow @whatsonweibo

     
    This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
     

    References

    Chen, Xin. 2017. “Boys’ Love (Danmei) Fiction On The Chinese Internet: Wasabi Kun, The Bl Forum Young Nobleman Changpei, And The Development Of An Online Literary Phenomenon.” MA Thesis, University of British Colombia https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Boys%27-Love-(Danmei)-fiction-on-the-Chinese-internet-Chen/63e7b494653bc1d849461b7a8f3d57aad05be452 [Aug 30, 2020].

    Cohane (阿扣-绝赞爬墙中). 2020. “第二章 中国内地BL文化发展历史整理 [Part Two: A History of Development of Mainland China BL Culture Development]” (In Chinese). Weibo Article, Aug 8, https://weibo.com/ttarticle/p/show?id=2309404536531036799045 [Aug 26 2020].

    Dai, Fei 戴非. 2013. “腐女心理 [Funu Psychology]” (In Chinese). 大众心里学 Popular Psychology (12): 34-35.

    Galbraith, Patrick W. 2011. “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary Japan.” Signs 37 (1): 211-232.

    Larigakis, Sophia. 2017. “Boys’ Love: The Gay Erotica Taking China by Storm.” Sophialarigakis.com, Nov 6 https://www.sophialarigakis.com/writing/boys-love-china [Aug 29, 2020].

    Madill, A., Zhao, Y. and Fan, L. 2018. “Male-male marriage in Sinophone and Anglophone Harry Potter Danmei and Slash.” Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 9 (5): 418-434.

    Ogawa, Sho. 2017. “Producing Gayness: The 1990s “Gay Boom” in Japanese Media.” PhD Dissertation, University of Kansas.

    Yang, Ling and Yanrui Xi. 2016. “Danmei, Xianqing, and the making of a queer online public sphere in China.” Communication and the Public 1 (2): 251-256.

    Yang, Ling and Yanrui Xu. 2017. “Chinese Danmei Fandom and Cultural Globalization from Below.” In: Lavin, Maud, Ling Yang, and Jing Jamie Zhao (eds). 2017. Boys’ Love, Cosplay, and Androgynous Idols – Queer Fan Cultures in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, page 3-20.

    Zhang, Chunyu. 2016. “Loving Boys Twice as Much: Chinese Women’s Paradoxical Fandom of “Boys’ Love” Fiction.” Women’s Studies In Communication 39 (3): 249–267.

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